Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crossdressing as a form of humor

This post is inspired by criticisms of a new sitcom (here), that I am actually not going to talk about at all, but figured that I would mention...

Yesterday, when I arrived at daycare to pick up my kids, two boys (about 10 years old) were dressed up as girls, wearing sleeveless dresses and high heeled shoes from the dress up bin.

This, in and of itself, is not a problem. I love when kids play dress up, I have a wide array of dress up clothes in a dress up toy box at home and there are no gender rules when it comes to who can wear what costumes. The problem that I had was with regards to how they were wearing the clothes, the way this was seen as humorous by the other kids, and the reasons behind this humour.

At first, I tried to tell myself that it was the element of it being unexpected that was funny to the kids... like when I make used to make my kids laugh, as toddlers, by putting one of their toys on my head like a hat or by using a shoe like a telephone and pretending to be confused when it didn't work. But I think this is more than that... little girls at the daycare dress up in men's clothing all the time, wearing suit jackets and ties or a variety of other outfits that are gendered as masculine. I have yet to witness this being seen as funny. But as soon as these boys came out of the change room in dresses and heels, the daycare exploded in laughter.

If femininity was equal to masculinity within society, this would not be funny. It becomes funny for boys to wear strapless dresses, high heeled shoes, and to walk with exaggerated hip motions because femininity has less value than masculinity, and the children at daycare know it.

I'm not saying that drag is misogynist, I love drag for a variety of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post, but I am mentioning this to differentiate someone who is gendered as male dressing in ways designated for females as a joke and those who do it for reasons related to gender identity, expression, or to expose problems with the gender binary (among other reasons).

I believe that for someone who is gendered as a male to dress in female clothing for humor (with some exceptions)is not unlike a white person wearing blackface; it is someone from a dominant group making fun of an oppressed or marginalized group.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution this specific issue would be... I don't think it would be appropriate or helpful for daycare workers to enforce gendered dress up rules; gender policing would make things worse, not better. But I do think that education could help, try to teach children why it isn't funny. I also think that the only real solution would be to end patriarchal social relations that lead to this being funny in the first place.


  1. Um, maybe we SHOULD talk about that show, though. I don't even find that the MOST offensive thing about the show is the cross-dressing. It's the reason for the cross-dressing: are they honestly trying to tell us that women are taking all of mens' jobs so the only way for them to succeed is to become women? WTF?

  2. How about the Kids in the Hall? They used drag to comment on society and developed sympathetic female characters to boot.

  3. I agree Gina, but it is on a bunch of blogs today so I figured I would write about something it reminded me of instead. But, yeah... poor men cannot find jobs because us silly women have moved in on their territory and are taking over.

    JM, I did say "with some exceptions" and I have not really watched kids in the hall... I find the amount of noise and stuff going on all at once in the show to be overwhelming (silly aspergers limiting my television watching choices), but it is entirely possible that it is an exception... or that there are both positive and negative aspects to how they do it. I'm really not sure.